A Chronicle of Major Storms that Influenced Ocean City, Maryland?s History
We are not concerned with storms that devastated the island prior to 1900, because they did not alter the course of our history. Those storms laid waste to the beach, the dunes, abundant wildlife and the livestock left by mainland farmers to graze up the island. The area known as Ocean City was virtually nothing but sand and ocean. Few structures existed at Ocean City at the turn of the century. Those that did were nestled within a six-block area of the town, between North and South Division Streets. Only a handful of families lived on the island year round. The owners, managers and staff of the larger hotels and rooming houses retreated to the comfort of their homes in Baltimore and Washington after the summer season.
Storms have always had a certain mystique and excitement about them. Years later after the storms have come and gone it is difficult to relate to the public the intensity of the moment. Yellowed news accounts have been examined and are included so that the reader may relive the excitement of the times.
The first good storm to hit the fledgling village occurred during the fall of 1903. An account of the storm as it appeared in the October 17, 1903 issue of the Democratic Messenger, Snow Hill Maryland, states: ?No such storm ever visited Ocean City within the memory of the oldest inhabitants as that of last Friday and Saturday, and the damage done was very great. An excursion train was run to our resort last Sunday from Salisbury and points along the B.C. & A. Railroad and nearly a thousand people took the opportunity to witness the ravages of the storm.
A staff correspondent of the Sun Paper who witnessed the storm says, ?Far out to sea the waves could be seen rearing their heads many feet high and rolling into the beach. They would break against the houses and sweep across the island to mingle with the bay. Every wave cut away a portion of the sand, and the wooden pilings of the cottages and houses.
Wreckage is strewn from one end of the beach to the other. Bureaus, bedsteads, tables, chairs and every kind of furniture could be seen floating around in the water. Near the hotel Congress Hall, a handsome piano was standing on end, half-buried in the sand, and the other half reared in the air, the surf breaking against it as every wave came ashore.
The boardwalk to the south of the Windsor Hotel is completely gone. From that point to the cottages of Police Commissioner Upshur the boardwalk is still standing, but thence north it is torn away in broad gaps, and what is standing is unsafe.
The handsome cottage of Mr. William T. Tabor of Philadelphia, with all its furnishings, including many costly pictures and pieces of bric-a-brac, is a complete wreck.
The Windsor Hotel gave way at 11:30 a.m. The front of the building had been sucked deep into the sand by the previous action of the storm, and the cupola leaned far forward. As the water approached high tide the front could be seen leaning farther and farther out, and each succeeding wave wore away some portion of the already weakened supports. Suddenly a monster wave struck it. The cupola was seen to totter for an instant and then sink gradually forward. It paused and the front suddenly collapsed with a crash, tearing away from the cupola, which sailed through the air, spinning around and around and landing near the Tabor cottage, 100 yards away.
Even before the sound of the crash of falling walls had died away, the front of the Congress Hall Hotel, which adjoins the Windsor Hotel on the south, gave way and collapsed with a crash. Mr. Daniel Trimper, Sr. owns the Windsor Hotel.?
Story of an Eyewitness 1903?Mr. Charles W. Sees, a brother-in-law and partner of Mr. Kelly, was the only Baltimorean at Ocean City on Friday. He gave an interesting account of the storm?s destruction as follows: ?I came down here (to Ocean City) Wednesday night for the purpose of having some repairs made to the hotel (which hotel is not mentioned). As it rained all day Thursday, I stayed over the night and again on Friday. When I got up Saturday morning I saw the sea was running high, and I went over to the hotel to look around. Everything appeared safe then and I went back to my boarding house and had breakfast.
After breakfast I returned to the hotel and there was a change in the aspect of affairs. The action of the water had lifted up the floor of the parlor until the piano was stuck up against the ceiling, the walls were quivering, and I concluded not to stay to when I saw the porch suddenly lifted up and slapped against the house, as if a large door had suddenly been banged shut. Almost instantly part of the building fell in, and the wind continued to slam the pieces of the porch against the side, tearing it away in sections.
I think our loss will be about $4,000, and there is no insurance. I do not know what we will do about rebuilding until I get home, and we consult about it, but I am inclined to think we will rebuild on a more modern plan.?
By the spring of 1904 all evidence of the storm had been cleared away, repairs had been made and the town opened for business as usual.
During the next thirty years the town experienced several coastal storms, these however were not particularly noteworthy and caused little damage.
By 1933, Ocean City had grown as far as 15th Street, but 15th Street was still considered by the locals to be ?way up the beach?. By this time most of the large hotels had been built, with vacation cottages dispersed amongst them. Baltimore Avenue had filled out with very nice year-round homes. Philadelphia Avenue was sparsely populated and entire blocks on the bayside were marsh and considered undesirable for housing. One thousand five hundred people made Ocean City their year-round residence. Never the less, Ocean City was becoming a popular vacation resort, but the town need something more. It needed a way to get out to the ocean, other than launching fishing boats from the beach into the surf. Several companies were formed to dredge inlets across what is now Assateague Island in desperate attempts to provide a pathway to the sea. All attempts failed.
The Storm of 1933On August 24, 1933, the Democratic Messenger, of Snow Hill, Maryland ran the following story.
Terrific Storm in Worcester Does Million Dollars Damage
?It seems that in Worcester (County) the greatest damage, considering the size of the place, was done at Public Landing. Many stories have been told about Ocean City, scarcely any being alike, but there is no difference in the stories that the people were badly frightened at the mountainous waves that batter down the boardwalk, smashed in windows and in south Ocean City destroyed a number of places of business. Many of the guests of hotels left, as soon as they could, for their homes. All the streets were heavily flooded and electricity and water supplies cut off. Calhoun?s Barber Shop on Talbot Street was badly damaged. The cellar floor of the George Washington Hotel was wrecked, and the Atlantic Hotel sustained some damage. Waves beat in the windows of the Idlewyld Hotel on First Street. The pier building withstood the storm, but it is said the rail bridge into town is damaged. We are informed that two inlets were cut by the storm at Ocean City-one near the south boardwalk and the other at or near the old North Beach Station on Assateague. One of the greatest misfortunes is the destroying of the Ocean City commercial fish pounds by the storm. The fishing industry is the greatest of all Ocean City money makers.?
1933 Storm Creates Much Needed Inlet for Ocean CityThe storm of 1933 changed the face and life-style of Ocean City. The commercial fishing camps on the island to the south of town had been destroyed, and only a few tried to rebuild. A new era was about to begin. Sport fishing, the hunt for big game fish, was all made possible by this magnificent storm that cut a new, deep-water inlet. This in turn would soon, with in several years, earn Ocean City the title of the White Marlin Capital of the World.
Creation of Inlet is One of Three Major Events that Changed Ocean City?s History
The Storm of 1936Headlines from the September 19, 1936 edition of the Salisbury Times spell doom and disaster. Eyewitness accounts said that the southern end of the boardwalk was the first to give way to the raging ocean. The boardwalk concessions and frame residences of fishermen were either completely wrecked or seriously damaged. By late afternoon of the 18th, nearly the entire boardwalk was reported to have washed away. Much of the pier had disappeared.
Thousands of Refugees Leave Gale-Torn Resort
Property Damage Enormous: Part Of Island May Be Obliterated
S. Franklyn Woodcock, who was vacationing with his family, said he could not begin to describe what was taking place when he left the island.
?I saw one giant wave pick up a parked automobile and hurl it against a stalled machine (auto) fifty feet away.? he said. ?It is terrible, horrible. I can never forget what I have seen today,? declared a guest of the Wicomico Hotel.?
Debris of every sort littered the streets. The streets, which were at one time under several feet of water, were left under tons of sand as the ocean receded. The bridge was under water also, and impassable.
Damage to the town was estimated at between $75,000 and $250,000. Clean up operations were begun immediately and the construction of a new boardwalk to replace the one demolished by the storm was to begin that November. ?The new boardwalk will be second to none on the eastern seaboard.? Announced the Mayor of Ocean City W. Thomas Elliott.
According to Hugh D. Cobb, III, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center the Storm of 1933 was only the first in a series of hurricanes to afflict the mid-Atlantic region and the East Coast in general in a 30-year cycle (1930-1960) of increased tropical storm activity. Another hurricane hit the region in September of 1933, followed by hurricanes in 1936, mentioned above, 1938 (the Long Island Express), 1944 (the Great Atlantic Hurricane), 1953 (Barbara), 1954 (Carole, Edna and Hazel), 1955 (Connie, Diane and Ione), 1958 (Helene), 1959 (Gracie) and 1960 (Donna).
This summer will mark seventy-four years since the 33? Storm, now a faded memory to most. The memory that lingers today is of another storm: a bigger storm, a super storm, and the most awesome of storms.
The Storm of March 6-8, 1962The Wednesday, March 7th edition of the Salisbury Times published the following account. ?A vicious winter storm left damage which may run into millions today along the Delmarva coast. From Lewes, on the tip of Delaware, down through Maryland and into Virginia, low-lying lands and resorts reported heavy floods of seawater.
Floods Ravage Delmarva Coast
Tides Rise to 5 Feet Over Normal
Worst storm in History Pounds Ocean City
Ocean City appeared hard hit, with damage reaching from the south-end inlet up through the new ?Gold Coast? area of luxury motels and beach houses. The storm cut off communication with Ocean City. Chincoteague was isolated, too.
Wallops Station, where the government maintains a highly complicated and expensive space station, was flooded. The damage could run into many millions.
Along the Maryland coast, there were smashed beach houses, flooded poultry houses filled with thousands of dead birds, and debris from fallen limbs and service lines.
High winds whipped rain and snow throughout the afternoon and night. Tides were estimated at five feet above normal. Many people were saying the storm was worse than the 1933 hurricane, which cut the inlet at Ocean City.
There were reports that another inlet has been cut in North Ocean City ? and that fires have gone unchecked on the northern portion of the island.
?If the wind doesn?t/t change direction before the high tide this morning, (the 7th) said Ocean City Mayor Hugh Cropper, ?the damage will double that created by the storm.?
Cropper had declared a state of emergency in the resort Tuesday night, when tides churned by 60 M.P.H. winds roared into the streets.?
The Baltimore Sun correspondent Ralph Reppert reported ?during the night O March 4, the wind at Ocean City came up briskly from the northeast and made Monday cold and gray, with gust and showers. Rough seas 6 to 9 feet rolled in and sloshed at the edge of the boardwalk. Small craft warnings were run up.
There was a new moon on Tuesday. New-moon tides run heavier. High water that morning was 2 feet above normal. It flooded both the ocean and the bay sides of the long, narrow barrier reef of which Ocean City lies. Two red pennants-gale warnings were run up. Through the day wind, tide and surf mounted. In this way the big blow developed so much like any spring northeaster that few residents knew they were in for a super-storm until many of them were literally in it up to their knees.?
Ocean City Volunteer Firemen began to gear up to answer a few distress calls. Little did they realize the awesome task that would lie ahead of them?
?As if it had waited to be recognized, the storm broke. The wind became a howler, a buffeting 45-mile per hour gale with gust of near hurricane force. It carried snow and sheets of rain. It broke wires, tore down signs, and picked up sand, shingles and broken shrubbery that scratched and cut whatever they hit.
Power lines snapped. Several houses burned. Driving north on Beach Highway was a slow, blind effort, for the volunteers had to steer by landmarks. The bay had joined the ocean. The storm waves sweeping across the highway were higher than a man.
Along the oceanfront the waters picked up the huge, raft-like sections of boardwalk and hurled them with smashing, splintering crashes into beach hotels. Some of these ponderous hulks, scudding along on the storm waves, leveled everything in their path all the way to the inland streets.
There was disaster and destruction everywhere. The resort, in the aftermath, looked as if it had been caught by a hurricane in the gay swing of mid-season. Ocean front buildings with sides or fronts knocked off had tilted on their foundations and spilled out beds, chairs, linens and draperies for the surf to scatter. Sand was piled 5 and 6 feet deep on the streets. Cars were completely buried. Crushed buildings and piles of wind and water-borne wreckage blocked every area.
In 1933 the tides ran to 7 feet 1 inch above the mean low tide level. The highest tide of the March 1062 storm was 9 feet4 to 5 inches above mean low tide.
Fifty business establishments-mostly apartment houses, a few roadside souvenir and carryout shops-and 15 homes were destroyed. There was crippling damage to 250 homes and 105 businesses. The beach is hurt, but most of it can be restored.
The cost of the storm is difficult to estimate. Ocean City officials believe damage to beach, boardwalk city buildings and equipment will run to $682,000. In a rough survey from a helicopter, one engineer made an estimate of $7,500,000 damage to homes and businesses. Some Ocean City people believe $20,000,000 would be closer.
Most of the big places will open on schedule this year, Mayor Hugh T. Cropper predicts. By the middle of June, townspeople think, the resort will have achieved close to 100 percent recovery.?
An astute observer of Ocean City history, George M. Hurley claims that had it not been for several of the major storms, Ocean City would not be what it is today. Occasionally nature speeds change along, using coastal storms as catalytic agents. Each major storm has benefited the town enormously. The 1933 storm gave Ocean City its much-needed economic boost: a new, wide and deep inlet, a pathway to the sea. Consequently, the city became the White Marlin Capital of the World. Various storms have caused the city to widen and extend the boardwalk leaving Ocean City with one of the most popular promenades on the East coast. Temporarily deflated post-storm property values, especially after the 1962 storm, attracted new investors to Ocean City. By 1965 the area north from 45th Street to the Delaware Line was annexed to become part of the municipality. Water and sewer lines were extended north to Delaware, allowing future development to continue, and the complexion of the island began to change in dramatic ways that no one had anticipated. The building boom of the 1970s can be said to be a direct result of the 62? storm.
Major storms brought new building codes and other storm awareness departments to the city. Save the Beach! Is the new cry of the 1990s. Through beach restoration, funded by the Federal, State, County and City governments and a sea wall abutted to the boardwalk, the Town of Ocean City survived a devastating January 1992 storm with little or no property damage.
The old adage that you can?t fight Mother Nature is true. You just have to let her do her thing, then clean up after her and go on with life. Something good will come of it. That is the philosophy of Ocean City, Maryland.